An old friend
This is one of the first icons I ever bought. I can clearly remember the shop in Chania, on Crete, where we chose it, along with a smaller one, also of the Virgin and Child. The smaller one hangs in my house; the one in this photo is in the church, and at the moment is situated, rather vulnerably, in the Prayer Corner, in a place where anyone sitting on one of the two chairs is likely rather to brush it with their shoulder than contemplate it. While thinking that really it should be moved slightly, I have to remind myself that I bought it at the request of a former Rector who wanted it for what was then the Lady Chapel but is now the place where people have coffee after the service. It belongs to the church, and not to me.
Churches have traditionally been repositories for such things - plaques given in memory of the long dead, vases and crucifixes in greater number than anyone could possibly have use for. And churches move on, the people change, leave, die, are replaced: "Shall we throw this out?" "Why is this old thing here?" "This place is such a mess. Let's tidy it up a bit." Living places, but also the crucible of memories and of prayers.
So how do we decide on what is worth retaining? How does the unfathomable value of the past get past the reckoning of the present? Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the joy we feel in discovering the past, the archaic, in tiny hillside chapels in the Cretan hills; the sense of timelessness in the lost history of the icons and artefacts - and set that against the constant cry of the need to modernise, to attract "the young" as if they were a strange and mindless species bred to be beyond the reach of history.
Meanwhile I notice that the icon bought some 30 years ago in that spotless shop in Chania is showing the effects of the damp church in which it has lived since. The gold is flaking, some has come off. But it's still one of my favourites.
And a last memory that comes over the years: on that hot day when I bought the icons, I slipped my sweating foot out of my sandal to cool it on the pale cream tiled floor. When we left, I left behind a single, perfect, muddy footprint, drying to dust as we closed the door.